Pee-wee teammates back together at McNeese State

Updated: August 24, 2003, 4:55 PM ET

LAKE CHARLES, La. -- McNeese State linebackers Tyree Broden and Roderick Royal go back a long way together.

Sure, they went to different high schools, with Royal at Glen Oaks and Broden at Broadmoor. But they were teammates long before that.

"Pee-wee football with the Baton Rouge Bandits," Royal recalled.

Broden chimed in, "And that was the team to play on in Baton Rouge."

They got back ont the same team again last year, when Royal transferred from Florida to McNeese.

Back in the youth league, Broden played guard. Royal said he played everything but quarterback.

Broden was recruited out of high school by McNeese, redshirted his freshman year, played sparingly as a freshman, then became a key reserve his sophomore year.

At Florida, Royal wasn't getting the playing time he was hoping for. He decided to leave after his sophomore year and chose McNeese.

As 2002 approached, Ryan Garrison was returning to his starting job at weak linebacker, but there was an opening at middle linebacker after Brad Archie completed his career. It was Broden's job to win, until Royal came aboard.

"I didn't think about that at all," Broden said. "I was just happy to have him because I knew he was a good player. I knew he would help us win."

Royal quickly moved into the starting spot and showed why, recording 160 tackles, 7.5 sacks, two interceptions and 18 tackles for loss during his junior year.

He was an all-American by the end of the season and enters his senior season as Street & Smith's preseason I-AA National defensive player of the year.

Broden settled into a role backing up both Royal and Garrison, finishing with 93 tackles -- great for a non-starter.

"I think if he was anywhere else in our conference he would start," linebackers coach Lark Hebert said. "And I really think if he was anywhere else, Rod and Ryan would be first-team all-conference and (Broden) would be second team."

The disappointing thing to Royal is that all three can't be on the field at the same time in McNeese's 4-2-5 scheme.

"That's a little frustrating," he said, "because you have three linebackers who can play anywhere."

It's OK with Broden, though.

"I just try to pick up their slack," he said. "We all are a little different, so I come in and give them that different look."

Royal loves to have Broden playing beside him, especially since Broden helped him learn the position.

While Royal and Garrison can focus on one spot -- Royal as starting middle linebacker, Garrison as the starter at weakside backer -- Broden has mastered both positions and gets near-starter level snaps between the two spots.

"Tyree helped me so much with the mental aspect of the game," Royal said. "Last year, I was just running around out there, but Tyree and Ryan would keep me lined up right. It had been a few years since I had played real football."

McNeese is ranked No. 1 in the preseason in Division I-AA after reaching the national title game last year.

"I know the defense now," Royal said. "That makes a big difference."

He and Broden both think the defense is better now than at this point last year.

"Way better," Broden said.

As good as the Baton Rouge Bandits?

"Probably not," Royal said. He and Broden broke into big grins. "The Bandits were pretty good."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index